VETERANS' BONUS ‑- GUARDIANSHIP ‑- MENTALLY INCOMPETENT VETERANS ‑- POWERS OF SUPERINTENDENTS OF STATE MENTAL HOSPITALS ‑- VETERANS' ADMINISTRATION POWERS
(1) The existence of a proper guardian of a veteran's estate prevents the superintendent of a state mental hospital from being guardian.
(2) The veterans' bonus may only be paid the court-appointed guardian.
(3) Neither the superintendent of a state mental hospital nor a "custodian" under Veterans' Administration regulations may apply for the Washington bonus due an incompetent veteran.
(4) Three hundred dollars of the veteran's estate is exempt from state hospitalization charges.
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August 9, 1951
Honorable Cliff Yelle
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 51-53 No. 103
Attention: !ttMr. H. C. Ashenfelter, Administrator
Division of Veterans' Compensation
You have requested our opinion on:
Whether the superintendent of the state mental hospital is made a guardian of a veteran patient by virtue of chapter 138, Laws of 1951, who has a prior guardian of "his person and estate?"
Our conclusion is that he is not.
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
Whether the veteran's bonus, when approved for payment, should be paid to such court appointed guardians?
Our conclusion is yes.
Whether the superintendent of a state mental hospital, as superintendent and partial guardian, may apply for the bonus of an incompetent veteran?
Our conclusion is that he may not.
Whether when the veteran's estate in the custody of the superintendent contains more than $300.00, the whole is chargeable for hospitalization charges?
Our conclusion is that the first $300.00 is exempt.
Whether a "custodian" appointed by the Veterans' Administration may, as such, apply for the Washington State Veterans' Bonus for the mentally incompetent veteran in his custody?
Our conclusion is that he may not.
Section 49, chapter 139, of the Laws of 1951, makes the superintendent of a state mental hospital the special guardian of the estate of a patient therein involuntarily hospitalized. Subdivision 4 of this section terminates this special guardianship upon appointment of a guardian of the estate of such patient, and receipt thereof by the superintendent of certified copies of the letters of guardianship.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
The legislative intent was, of course, that the superintendent be guardian while no other guardian existed. Thus, if an estatual [[estate]]guardian already existed, the 1951 act does not create another. The superintendent, however, would be justified in requiring certified copies of letters of guardianship from existing guardians when he does not already have the same.
The veteran's bonus should, of course, be paid to the properly court-appointed guardian of the estate of the mentally incompetent veteran applicant, and we understand that this has been the past practice. This should be done upon proper proof of guardianship. Proper proof, it is suggested, would be the certified copy of the letters of guardianship. The guardian of an estate may bring court action in the name of his ward and may collect, compromise, or release amounts due his ward. See 25 Am.Jur. Guardian and Ward, § 60 to § 106. He is authorized and required by court, under oath, bond and strict accountability to act in behalf of and for the benefit of his incompetent ward.
Section 49, of the Laws of 1951, make the superintendent of a state mental hospital the guardian of only a certain portion of the personal estate of involuntary patients for whom no guardian has been appointed. The personal property involved is that which
"may come into his [the superintendent's] custody while the patient is under the jurisdiction of the hospital."
Custody of the superintendent as above used is practically synonymous with possession of the hospital. Thus the superintendent is the guardian of the personal property‑-clothes, money, etc., which are actually at the hospital. The superintendent is not authorized, for example, by virtue of this law, to handle the normal bank deposits of such a patient. Such an account would not be in the "custody" of the superintendent, nor would the superintendent be guardian of the veteran's interest in those funds.
Veterans' bonus moneys also are not in the "custody" of the superintendent. Thus, he is not guardian of any interest the patient may have in such a bonus. The conclusion that the superintendent may not, as guardian, apply for the bonus is borne out further by § 50, ch. 139, of the Laws of 1951, permitting the [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] superintendent to "receive" funds for the patient but which does not authorize him to take specific action, whether by court or bonus application, to obtain funds due the patient-veteran from outside sources.
Further, chapter 53, Laws of 1951, provides in detail for the methods of appointing guardians for mentally incompetent veterans. (See § 5). See also our opinions to the Department of Finance, Budget & Business, dated June 15, 1945, and to the Department of Public Institutions, dated April 13, 1950, enclosed herein for your perusal. We adhere to the conclusions therein found.
Subdivision 2 (b) of section 49, chapter 139, of the Laws of 1951, authorize the superintendent as guardian of the personal property in the possession of the hospital to
"disburse moneys from the patient's estate"
for hospitalization charges
"where the estate contains money in the sum of $300.00 or more."
and the patient is not likely to be released within six months.
This law, like many relating to debtors, was intended to exempt the first $300.00. Thus, only that portion of the veteran's estate exceeding $300.00 may be so "disbursed." To hold that if a patient had over $300.00 the entire amount would be subject to such charges, would appear to us to be unfair, very discriminatory, and to defeat the basic legislative purpose.
38 U.S.C.A. § 450, permits the Veterans' Administration to pay to the person in actual custody of a mentally incompetent veteran certain federal veterans' benefits (such as pensions, compensation, insurance, retirement). See also 38 U.S.C.A. § 11L (1950 Supp.).
Such a "custodian" is not granted any further powers than proper disbursement of such moneys for the benefit of the veteran. Whether the custodian be an official of a veterans' hospital or a private person, he is not in any sense a "guardian" of the veteran's general estate by virtue of the above statute. He [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] may not, therefore, under Veterans' Bonus Act, Rem. Rev. Stat. § 10747c (1949 Supp.) apply for and receive the Washington State Veterans' Bonus on behalf of the mentally incompetent veteran in his custody.
The above opinion relates only to the acts of the superintendent of state mental hospitals and the "custodian" in veterans' hospitals acting in their official capacity. We see no reason, however, that these officials, acting as individuals, could not properly be court appointed as guardian pursuant to ch. 53, Laws of 1951, and thereafter apply for and receive the veteran's bonus on behalf of the incompetent veteran in their charge.
Very truly yours,
JENNINGS P. FELIX
Assistant Attorney General